Winter is one of those seasons you either love or love to hate. A warm blanket and chai latte on a comfy couch is the ideal scenario for the average winters day. But, with cold weather comes a multitude of bugs and sniffles.
The worst of which is the dreaded flu and boy can it get you down. It only takes a touch of a germ-infested surface or a nearby sneeze of someone with the flu virus, and within days, you're curled up in bed with a box of tissues.
Seasonal cold and flu can sometimes be treated with rest and a pack of over the counter (OTC) medication, or even your great gran's home remedy. But, often it’s not that simple and requires a trip to the doctor and antibiotics. Your immune system certainly takes a knock but, it isn’t the only thing that is affected by the chilly weather.
Icey temperatures can also affect your hearing. These effects can be minor but are sometimes more severe and can be quite troublesome. Duration and frequency of exposure to extreme temperatures is the determining factor. Let’s have a look at the effects a big drop in temperature can have on the ear.
Surfer's ear (exostosis)
Surfer’s ear is caused by exposure to cold, wet and windy conditions which can cause abnormal bone growth inside your ear canal. This growth is called exostosis and is the development of bony growths on the surface of bones. In this case, the medial portion of your ear canal becomes blocked and if left untreated could cause hearing loss. The now occluded passage increases the likelihood of water, wax or debris becoming trapped in the ear and in turn, the risk of ear infection. Symptoms can include trapped water inside the ear and recurring ear infections.
The occurrence of surfer’s ear is directly proportional to the time spent in cold, wet and windy weather without adequate ear protection which is why it is most prevalent among surfers and the reason for its name.
Although treatable with surgery, most cases do not present to medical care. In some cases, when the growth exceeds a certain limit, the patient can develop conductive hearing loss due to the occlusion. Similarly, exostosis can cause tinnitus, ear pain, ear wax retention and recurrent outer ear infections.
If you spend your time in cold, wet and windy places and are experiencing difficulty hearing it is best to seek medical treatment.
While ear infections or "otitis" occur throughout the year, they are more common during the winter months when the increased occurrence of colds and flu results in blockages in the eustachian tube. Sinus infections and allergies can also be a cause.
The most common of these ear infections is a "middle ear" infection or "otitis media". Ear infections are usually acute but can be recurring. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic (recurring) ear infections are one of the primary causes of hearing loss. Management of ear infections is simple. Antibiotics and painkillers are usually sufficient to clear the infection. If resistance to the treatment is encountered, decongestants and glucocorticoids may be necessary.
Even hearing aids suffer
If you thought only humans were affected by the cold weather, think again. Even batteries perform worse in cold weather and don't last as long. Apart from keeping hearing aids dry at all times, make sure you have a couple of spare batteries with you too and remember to turn them off when not in use.
Cold temperature can also cause physical changes in the ear which can lead to pain, dizziness, and even tinnitus. In extreme conditions, cold weather can also cause ear wax to harden which increases the risk of conductive hearing loss.
Doing what you can to avoid your immune system taking a knock is indeed worth it. And while some things are unavoidable, a precautionary approach is always advisable.
So, take your immune boosters, increase your intake of vitamin C and dig out granny's chicken soup recipe and get prepared. Just don't forget your ears.
Cover up with earmuffs or a scarf, wear one of those stylish Russian fur caps and try to keep surfing to a minimum (I don't imagine that should be too difficult).
Whatever you do, keep your ears protected and if you experience any problems contact your local audiologist.
After all, an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure.